Rick barely touched his dinner. He ordered steak and he knew it was expensive, but he was so nervous about tonight, his throat was tight and he worried he’d choke. He was feeling guilty until he noticed that Aunt Fran was just picking at her plate, too. He leaned over and said, “You’re not hungry, either, Auntie?”
“I’m not hungry,” Fran grumbled, “now that I’m a drug addict.” Aunt Lora made a shushing noise and glared her disapproval, but Aunt Fran was suddenly angry. “Put a lid on it, Lora!” she snarled, and then turning back to Rick, the witch snapped, “And it’s all Amy Ludwig’s fault!”
Amy was sitting right on the boy’s other side, and she leaned across Rick and said loudly, “Struggling with the side effects, Fran?”
“I guess,” and Aunt Fran looked remorseful as she sat back. Fran glanced at Lora, saying, “Sorry,” and then she patted Rick’s arm to let him know it was okay. “It’s like having ants crawling up my veins,” the witch explained. “I don’t know how they aren’t growling and fighting all the time.”
“Their Makers train them,” Amy shrugged. “Some vampires don’t earn their freedom for hundreds of years. A Maker who frees their progeny before they can control themselves faces big trouble. I don’t think mainstreaming is going to change that!”
“Are you sure you’re alright, Auntie?” Rick was worried. His Aunt had been in the hospital, so ill Rick thought she’d die. Now, suddenly, she was here, wheeling around New Orleans, and bossing everyone around. She sounded strong, but there was still something about how she looked that was too fragile to be healthy. “Are you really okay?”
Aunt Fran patted his arm again, “Don’t you worry, Rick! I’m right as rain! And don’t you listen to all my bitching. When an old lady starts grousing about her problems, you can bet it’s more a spectator sport than anything worth paying attention to.’”
“Do you want me to turn you?” Rick asked. The whole table suddenly went silent. Rick looked around nervously, before stammering, “I mean… I don’t know if I can, but I could probably figure it out. It’s just…” and he stopped talking when he felt the weight of all those eyes staring at him.
“Oh, Ricky!” Fran laughed out loud, breaking the tension, “Now, that’s the nicest offer I’ve had in years. I do appreciate you offering, Sweetie, but the cold truth is I don’t want to live forever. I have things to do on the other side, people to see, and I made my peace with that a long time ago. I’m not like you and your Mom. You both have everything you ever wanted right here.”
“I guess,” Rick shrugged. “It’s pretty nice, though, being a vampire,” and when his Aunt didn’t look away, he continued trying to persuade her. “I mean, I feel stronger every day. I don’t have to worry about getting hurt much anymore. I bumped into a dresser at the Hermosas and it really hurt, but the bruise was gone almost before it started. I bet you’d feel a lot better if you were a vampire.”
“Maybe I would,” Aunt Fran smiled, “but I’d still be a dinosaur. Vampire blood can’t change that. Besides, I heard they already have an ancient vampire and everyone tells me she’s a regular bitch. You know how I feel about competition. I wouldn’t like knowing there’s anyone else around who’s enough like me to give me a run for my money.”
“There’s never going to be anyone one like you, Aunt Fran!” Rick smiled.
“And you better believe it, Kiddo,” and his Aunt sat back. “Now, come over here and give your Godmother a kiss, and then do this old lady a favor and eat something off that plate. We’ll be in Vampire Central for hours tonight, and I’m willing to bet a whole dollar they don’t have any real food there. You won’t be happy if we have to leave because your stomach is growling.”
“Sure,” Rick smiled, allowing his Aunt to tease him into picking up his fork. Rick did feel better, but instead of steak, he found himself thinking about the donors at the Palace. The thought of fresh blood made his fangs itch and he shifted in his chair. He’d had bottled blood today, a couple times in fact, but it wasn’t the same. His Aunt looked pointedly from his face to his plate and back, so Rick humored her by slicing into his steak and dutifully raising a piece to his lips. He looked across the table. Aunt Lora was smiling at him and beside her, Mr. Cataliades was tucking into a second plate of what appeared to be some kind of chicken dish.
‘Guess nothing bothers your appetite, Uncle Desmond,” Rick said once he’d swallowed his meat. Rick couldn’t help staring at the attorney. It was a repeat performance of yesterday. The plates appeared, and the demon cleaned them off, one by one, piling them neatly into a stack to the side, so they could be scooped up by the waiters, and replaced with more plates full of food.
“I’d say you’re feeling better,” Amy Ludwig agreed, then explained to Rick, “Happy demons eat.”
“I am happier,” Mr. Cataliades agreed. “I am no longer under Felipe de Castro’s heel, I still have my head, and although it isn’t optimal, Fintan Brigant’s family will live on,” Desmond smiled, “so, yes, things are looking up for me.”
“That’s good,” Rick said agreeably. “I kind of figured that since Mom will probably end up staying with Eric, you’d be pissed off.”
The attorney drank some wine and then adjusted the napkin in his lap before looking across the table at the boy, “I suppose I owe you an apology, young Rick.” The demon set his fingers on the tabletop, “I have not been complimentary about your Father, and that is not fair to him or to you. If you and the North Man hadn’t found your Mother, she would be in a terrible place right now. You both saved her, but Mr. Northman was willing to risk his kingdom to do so. I may have misjudged the relationship between Mr. Northman and your Mother.”
“And, you’re okay with her being a vampire?” Rick asked. “I guess that does mean that she goes on forever…”
“But there’s you!” and Mr. Cataliades leaned forward.
“What do you mean?” There was something in the way the demon was looking at him that didn’t make Rick feel comfortable.
“In most cases, becoming a vampire does mean an end of sorts, but in your case, young Rick, there remain possibilities. You can carry on Fintan’s bloodline.”
“He’s telling you that you can reproduce,” Amy said through a mouthful of food. She swallowed before telling the flushed Rick, “The Fae lost that ability, so having any member with the blood who can have children is important to them.”
“And to me,” Mr. Cataliades agreed.
“Yeah… great.” Rick swallowed. “But I’m not the only one, right? I mean, there’s my Mom’s brother…”
“Ah, Jason!” Mr. Cataliades nodded. “And you have another cousin, Hunter Savoy.” That was news to Rick and he wondered why his Mother had never mentioned it. “I maintain tabs on them,” the demon nodded, “but the likelihood of your uncle carrying the blood forward is slight, and your cousin is not well.” It made Rick wonder, but the demon didn’t seem worried and neither did anyone else. “You, on the other hand, are remarkably magic,” and Mr. Cataliades winked and went back to eating.
“Well, Rick,” Aunt Fran rescued him. “I’m sure you have more questions, but I think we need to get moving.” She glanced again at Rick’s plate before observing, “This all turned out a lot different than I thought it would, but sometimes things just turn out the way they’re supposed to.”
“It’s starting to get dark,” Aunt Lora observed, looking out the windows lining the front of the building. “Should we think about getting over there?”
Rick put down his fork and started to pull the napkin from his lap, but Fran was having none of it. “Finish your dinner,” she growled. “It’s not like anyone is going to be put out if we’re late. I don’t imagine anyone will be angry if we delay our arrival until after the sun sets. They’ll be right where they’re supposed to be and they’ll see us when we get there.”
Rick started cutting his meat into pieces and eating with purpose. “You do realize your Mom will still be sleeping? She won’t be able to react to you,” Amy seemed intent on explaining things to Rick for what seemed the millionth time.
Rick rolled his eyes and nodded, never stopping his chewing. When he’d asked earlier, the Doctor told him she was pretty sure his Mother would be able to hear anything he said to her, even now. It prompted Rick to rip the pages from the pad he’d used at the Hermosas and stuff them in his pocket. He’d made lists of those things he felt he really needed to be happy, and those where he figured he could compromise.
“I know,” Rick nodded once he swallowed. “You told me! But, like you said, she’ll still hear me. Maybe it’ll give her some time to think stuff over. One thing I know about my Mom, when she hears something that upsets her, sometimes she says something she doesn’t mean at first. Later, once she’s had a chance to roll it over a couple times, she might change her mind.”
“You think that’s what she’ll do with your ideas while she’s sleeping?” Aunt Lora asked.
“You know your Mom pretty well,” Aunt Fran patted his hand. “She acts first and regrets later, but she’s a grown woman. She knows that about herself now. Still, this whole vampire thing is a big change. You need to be prepared for her not behaving too well about it at first.”
“I get why you feel that way, you, and pretty much every vampire I met while I’ve been here,” Rick sighed. “I just know that you’re all wrong. My Mom isn’t going to have any problems being a vampire. She’ll be like me now and she’s fine with how I am.”
“Your Mother would never have a problem being like you,” Fran assured her Godson, “but, like I said, this is a big change, and sometimes adults don’t do well with changes just because they are…well…changes.”
“Yeah, sure, Aunt Fran,” Rick huffed. “Who’s bullshitting now?”
“Well, not me, Mr. Smart-Mouth! I just don’t want you to get your feelings hurt if your Mom says some stupid things in the beginning. You have to be prepared to let her do some venting and then, as you say, roll things over a couple times,” and Aunt Fran laid her napkin on the table.
“I get it,” Rick huffed. He looked up to see his Aunt Lora’s worried eyes watching him, “I do! And things will be weird tonight, too. Mom’s going to look strange. She won’t be able to say anything. I need to see my Father again…yeah. I get it, total shit show!”
“Well!” Aunt Fran shrugged, “then as long as we’re all feeling good about all of this, I guess we’re ready to make our grand entrance at the Palace!” Rick couldn’t help laughing. His Aunt always knew the right thing to say to make him feel better.
Still, as Rick pushed his Aunt’s wheelchair around the corner and they saw the barricades that kept traffic from crossing in front of the Palace, he couldn’t help the nervous feeling that started from his stomach and marched through the rest of him.
Clearly, they were expected because several large people, Weres, came out the front door of the building and headed straight for them. The Weres moved the barricades, so their whole party could walk through, then moved the barriers back in place behind them. The ever-present tourists who lined the sidewalks stared, and Rick could hear their speculation and see them raising their phones to photograph him and his family.
As they approached the broad steps that led up to the double doors, three more Weres came out of the building. They were wearing black uniforms and what looked like flak vests. The middle one bowed to Fran, but then he said, “Welcome home, Master. If you will permit, we will assist your Aunt into the building.”
It took Rick a tick to realize the Were guard was speaking to him. Rick wasn’t sure what to make of it, but then the other Weres moved to stand on either side of Aunt Fran’s chair and they lifted her up, chair and all. They walked her up the steps and in through the open doors, and the rest of their group followed. Aunt Fran glanced up at the man who’d bowed and said loudly, “Cupcake, you can come and carry me around any time!”
“You got it, Toots!” the Were winked back.
“Why you are too young!” Aunt Fran flirted some more, “You young ones just don’t have the stamina it takes. Your Grandfather around?”
“Clearly, you’ve never had a Were,” the guard teased back, “We’re ready from the time we’re born!”
“Jeez!” Rick groaned. He looked at Amy Ludwig, wondering if this was part of the side effects of whatever substance she was taking now.
“You’re embarrassing him!” Lora scolded Fran.
“Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m blind,” Aunt Fran laughed.
The guards around them were smiling and looking more relaxed than Rick remembered, but then Thalia came around the corner and they all snapped back to attention.
“Welcome home, Rick,” Thalia bowed her head slightly. Her gaze swept over the rest of the group and ended with a glare aimed at Mr. Cataliades.
“Hi, Thalia. Nice to see you again, too,” Rick replied, anxious to keep things friendly.
Thalia turned her gaze away from the attorney, “I trust your journey from Minden to New Orleans was uneventful? The demon made sure you were kept safe?”
There was something about how she said it that had Rick wondering if Thalia knew about the misadventure involving the Were woman at the restaurant yesterday. He knew he was blushing, but he said, “Yeah, Uncle Desmond was great. He always takes care of me.”
“That’s very good to hear,” Thalia smiled tightly, and her gaze riveted back on the attorney. “I would hate to think that your ‘Uncle Desmond’ allowed you to be placed in a situation that could have led to your being hurt or manipulated in some way. As the King’s son, you will have many protectors, but that is because there are others who will wish to use you for your position,” and with that, Rick knew that Thalia knew about the restaurant.
“This way,” she said and turned, leading them down the corridor. As they passed the bench where Rick spent his first night in the Palace, Rick found his eyes lingering. Thalia was suddenly beside him. “Pleasant memories?” she asked.
Rick jumped a little, “No… I mean yes… I mean it just seems like a long time ago.”
Thalia nodded, “It is the way in times of emergency,” she told him. “It can be as if time stands still, and then time seems to compress.” She was watching him as she slowed her pace to match his. When they reached the end of the corridor, Thalia gestured that they should all take a turn. A few paces down, they came to the elevator and Thalia stepped forward and pushed the button. “I’ll meet you upstairs,” she said directly to Rick. “Get out on the sixth floor. You remember.”
“You know where we’re going?” Fran asked Rick as they rode up.
“I’m pretty sure Thalia meant Eric’s rooms,” Rick nodded. “I know they’re are on the sixth floor.”
“I’m not surprised that’s where he’s keeping your Mother,” Mr. Cataliades grumbled. Rick was kind of surprised the attorney was complaining. If Rick thought Thalia was pissed at him, Rick would have felt worried, and not out of sorts, which Uncle Desmond did. “He would want to keep her close, regardless,” the attorney continued, “but if his instincts have kicked in to include the role of her protector, he may be aggressive in how he keeps others away from her.”
“I think it’s more for Eric than just protecting Mom,” Rick said glumly, and the image of the vampire lowering himself into the coffin with his Mom came back to mind. There was something about the look on the Viking’s face, and then Thalia’s words, that Eric Northman belonged to his Mom, that had made a deep impression on Rick.
The elevator doors opened and they all found themselves facing Pam Ravenscroft. “Baby Fang!” Pam grinned at Rick. “Oh, and friends!” and Pam looked at the others before stepping back and beckoning for them to step out of the elevator. “Come on! Eric’s on his way to his receiving room. You remember where that is, right, Rick? It’s where we met the first time.”
“I remember,” Rick mumbled.
“I bet you do!” and Pam laughed out loud. She glanced at Aunt Lora who was walking beside her and said, “Junior took one look at Eric and passed out cold. He hit the floor so hard you could hear his head bounce!”
“Hey, I didn’t have anything to eat in hours and your buddies kept me a virtual prisoner downstairs…” Rick protested.
“Prisoner?” Aunt Fran’s voice had that edge that usually meant trouble.
“It’s all sorted good now, Auntie,” Rick rushed to say. “By the way, this is Pam. I guess you could say she’s my sister.”
“Share a Maker? More than just a guess,” Pam smirked at Rick, then turned to Aunt Fran, saying “Pam Ravenscroft. You’d think he,” and Pam nodded at Rick, “would have better manners.” She opened the double doors at the end of the corridor and walked into the room Rick remembered. Pam stood next to an armchair before continuing, “Your Mother has the best manners of anyone I’ve ever met. It didn’t matter who she was talking to or how bad the situation got, she always did right by everyone. It’s one of the things I admire most about her.”
Lora had taken over pushing Fran’s chair, and once she had the witch positioned between the couch and a chair, the introductions continued. “Well, I’m Fran Miller,” and Aunt Fran smiled, but didn’t offer a hand.
“The witch,” Pam acknowledged, and she bowed a bit. “And you?” Pam looked up and cocked her eyebrow at Aunt Lora.
Lora introduced herself, and bowed, although it looked pretty awkward. Pam executed her perfect head bow, then smiling faintly, grazed her eyes across Amy Ludwig and Mr. Cataliades. “And, of course, I know the rest of you. Of course, you look different than the last time we saw each other, Demon. Looks like you’re eating again.”
“My fortunes are more than just looking up,” Mr. Cataliades replied, bowing rather elegantly, but when he stood up, his smile was full of sharp, pointed teeth. Rick kept looking between Pam and Uncle Desmond. He was sure there was some backstory, but he knew now wasn’t the time to ask. Closing his mouth, Mr. Cataliades straightened, pulled down on his suit, and asked, “May I assume you are serving as the new King’s Second?”
Pam’s smile bordered on preening, “I have been honored with Eric’s trust and I am serving in that capacity,” she confirmed. Rick wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but Pam looked very pleased, so Rick figured it was a big deal.
“And may I ask where your sister, Karin, might be? I haven’t heard of her being in the city,” and Mr. Cataliades looked rather pointedly polite.
“Karin will be staying in Area 5,” Pam’s eyes cut to Rick. “Eric felt that with the problems the Area faces, he needed someone up there he could trust to clean things up. Eric was told that things got out of hand under the previous Sheriff,” and Pam glanced away and bit her lip. Rick remembered how upset Pam had been when Indira was banished. “At any rate, if Karin does well, she will be named as Sheriff there. If she succeeds, she could be appointed Regent of Arkansas.”
“Your Maker would keep his own daughter so far away?” and Mr. Cataliades’ eyebrows rose.
Pam stared at Rick and he could see she was struggling not to look annoyed, “Under the circumstances, it seemed like the best opportunity for her. With Karin there and me here, it means Eric doesn’t have to look over his shoulder while he works to stabilize his rule over his new territory.”
“Or worry about unnecessary drama while he works on settling his personal life,” the attorney’s smile was meek, but Rick was pretty sure Uncle Desmond was needling Pam. Pam’s mouth opened, and Rick could see the spark in her eye, but Eric Northman interrupted them by walking into the room.
Eric was looking far better than any of the previous times Rick saw him. The King’s hair was clean and brushed back in pretty much the same way Rick brushed his own. He was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt that fit snugly over his chest and shoulders, and Rick realized with a start that they’d both dressed almost identically.
“It is well to have you return to the Palace,” Eric said directly to Rick. He inclined his head, then fastened his eyes on Lora and then Fran. Rick couldn’t stop staring at his Father as Pam stepped forward and made introductions.
No one moved. They stood awkwardly until Doctor Ludwig broke the silence, asking, “Do you want me to go in and check on Sookie?”
Eric twitched. It was weird. It was almost as if someone had shocked him, but then Eric steadied himself, turned his head to look at Pam, and holding her eyes, said, “Yes. That would be most kind of you.”
The doctor didn’t waste time, she just disappeared. Eric shifted, then turned his head to look at Rick.
“What?” Rick asked. His Father was staring as him and his eyes were narrowing.
“Pam?” Eric called, tilting his head to the side, “please take your brother downstairs to feed.”
Rick glanced around at Aunt Lora and Aunt Fran. He felt embarrassed, although it was kind of crazy. They knew he drank blood, but, somehow, the idea that he was going to drink from a person and that they’d know made him uncomfortable. “That’s okay,” Rick stammered. “I just ate. I’m fine.”
“Pick his donor wisely,” Eric continued speaking to Pam as if Rick hadn’t said anything. “He is still new to feeding and will need time to build his skills and mastery.”
“Come on, Rick,” Pam walked over and touched his arm. “You’re not fooling anyone. I can sense your need from across the room.” Thalia was walking in, but she stopped just inside the door, waiting for Rick and Pam to leave.
Rick almost protested, but Aunt Fran pointed her finger at the door and gestured that he should get moving, so Rick gave in.
As soon as they heard the sound of the elevator doors closing, Eric turned to Fran. He wasn’t smiling and he didn’t look happy. He leaned forward and his fangs dropped, “What went wrong? Why didn’t your spells protect her?” he hissed.
“You don’t mince words, do you?” Fran sat back. “Can’t say I’m surprised you’re angry, but threatening an old woman isn’t going to get you any answers. You think you can bully me? Take your best shot! Killing me would be doing me a favor.” Eric’s jaw was working, but it just made Fran smile more broadly.
Thalia crossed to stand behind Eric, but Mr. Cataliades made a show of walking between Eric and Fran’s chair, “Excuse me, excuse me,” he said lightly, forcing the vampire to straighten and lean back. The demon continued on his way, then seated himself on a couch and sighed. “Very comfortable!” he announced, and he patted the seat beside him, “Why don’t you come and sit next to me, Lora? I’m sure we’ll be offered refreshments soon and the table is very convenient to this seat.”
Eric growled, but he retracted his fangs and stalked to the chair closest to Fran’s and sat down, making a show of crossing his leg over his knee. “Fine,” he said. “We are all friends. So, Witch, now that we are being civilized, perhaps you will be so kind as to tell me what went wrong?”
“Not too sarcastic!” Fran laughed, but then her face settled into a more thoughtful pose, “I don’t think anything really did go wrong. I think that when I suffered that second stroke, something shifted. I could sense that things were off, but nothing was broken.” Fran took a deep breath before telling the Viking, “The spells held, of that I’m sure, but they changed their priority. I’ve given this some thought and I think I understand it. The wards I put in place to protect Sookie weren’t just about keeping her alive. The spells were also about keeping her happy. Protection without the comfort of a good life can be cruel. Without the component of happiness, Sookie could have ended up in a prison cell, perfectly safe, and perfectly unhappy for the rest of her life.”
“But, how does what happened to her…” and Eric’s head dropped.
“Keep her happy?” Fran finished. “Seems to me it’s the only way she was ever going to be truly happy.” Now Eric did lift his head, his face a mass of contradictions. “Look at you!” Aunt Fran purred. “You really are the most handsome man I’ve ever seen close up, and I’ve seen a bundle of them. I can see now why you would be the love of her life.”
“Sookie?” Eric asked.
“Who else?” Fran said kindly. “She showed up on my doorstep, tired and angry and pregnant. She was sure she’d made some big mistake, but she was just as sure she wanted to try and turn her life around for that little baby, and she did. Rick gave her hope. He helped fill the big hole your leaving left in her life.”
“Sookie was not sorry to see me go,” and Eric’s laugh was bitter.
“You’re wrong,” Fran assured him. “Sookie was heartbroken that she let you go without ever telling you how much you meant to her. The day she finally admitted to herself that Rick was your son was her best day. Rick couldn’t be everything she needed, but he gave her life great purpose and he made her happy.”
“She was happy when she found out he was a vampire?” Eric asked.
“She was happy when she found out he was yours,” Fran told him.
Eric leaned over, his hands clasped, and glanced toward the door. “The boy will return soon, so I must say this quickly.” He looked at the attorney, “You are pledged to guard Brigant’s family, yes?”
“I watch over them,” Mr. Cataliades agreed.
“Thalia has likewise pledged to watch over the boy,” Eric told them. Thalia stepped forward, so she was standing directly behind the Viking’s chair. She nodded once, demonstrating her agreement. “She will remain with him for his lifetime.” Eric looked at the demon again, “I am assuming you stand ready to do the same.”
The attorney sat back and he looked thoughtful, “I am,” he replied.
“Good,” Eric nodded. “Then that is settled.”
“What’s going on?” Lora asked.
“You don’t think she’ll make it?” Fran asked.
“Sookie is changing,” Eric smiled briefly. “She will rise tomorrow night.”
“And you think she’ll choose to do what? End herself?” Fran asked.
“Oh,” Lora exhaled. “Oh, I hadn’t considered that. I guess I could see it, though,” and then she looked embarrassed. “I mean, being a vampire is okay for some people,” she stammered, then realizing there was no polite way to say what she was thinking, she gathered herself, and said to Eric, “but if the worst happens and Sookie should choose not to live this way, why would you send Rick away? He’ll need his Father.”
“Because he isn’t going to continue without her,” Fran told Lora. “Isn’t that right?” she asked Eric directly.
“I won’t lose her again,” Eric said simply. “I will follow wherever she chooses to lead.”
“I don’t suppose I can guilt you into putting your son first,” Fran observed, “because you don’t really see him that way, do you?”
“I don’t know him,” Eric didn’t sound angry, he just sounded like a man stating facts.
The sound of the elevator doors opening caused them all to turn and look. Pam and Rick walked back into the room and Rick was smiling. “Wow!” Pam exclaimed. “What did we miss?”
Eric stood and smiled. There was no trace of his earlier conversation as he said to RIck, “I am sure you would like to see your Mother.”
“Yeah,” Rick was looking around. He could see something was going on, but he couldn’t tell what it was.
“If it would be all right, I’d like to come, too,” Fran announced.
Eric slowed, and Pam walked up behind him and placed her hand on his back. It was an odd gesture, but, after a moment, Eric relaxed, turned to Fran, and said, “Of course. It would be best to have another there, for the boy.”
Eric glanced at the others, and it was Mr. Cataliades who spoke up, “We’re perfectly comfortable waiting here,” he assured the King. “We’ll all see Sookie once she rises tomorrow evening. Perhaps some tea while we wait?” Thalia pulled out her phone and started texting, and so it was settled.
Eric started moving to the door, “You are prepared for her appearance?” he asked Rick.
“Doctor Ludwig told me her skin will be there, but it’ll be kind of transparent, and she’ll look a little blue,” Rick nodded.
“Your Mother has entered her final phase,” Eric confirmed as they walked down the corridor. “She is more solid. You will be able to hold her hand if you wish,” and as he said that, Pam made a point of touching Eric again. Rick almost asked about it, but then he figured if they weren’t going to explain it, he probably didn’t need to know.
Instead, he figured he’d ask the vampire to confirm what Doctor Ludwig had told him earlier, “Is it true that if I tell my Mom things now, she’ll understand and remember what I said?”
Eric nodded, “I did. Pam did as well,” and Pam smiled at him and nodded, “I have been speaking to your Mother every night, telling her of you, and of how things are here.” Eric smiled, then glanced at Rick, “I’m sure your Mother will be happy to hear your voice.”
Rick pulled the yellow, lined paper from his pocket, “Well, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. You know how my Mom is, how she can fly off the handle sometimes until she has time to think about things?” Eric’s eyebrows pulled together and Rick figured Eric did know. “Well, I know some stuff will need to change, but I think I’ve figured out how we can arrange things, so we can all be happy.”
“You and your Mother?” Eric smiled.
“Well,” and Rick looked down, “you, too, I guess.” Eric stopped walking. He stared at the boy, so Rick nodded and swallowed, “I’ve heard a lot of stories about you and my Mom since I’ve been down here. I’m kind of figuring she’ll want you to be a part of our lives from now on.” Rick shrugged, “I think it would make her happy.”
“And, you’ve figured out how that would work?” Eric asked slowly.
“Well, yeah…maybe,” Rick blushed. “Anyway, I wrote it out and if Mom doesn’t like it, she’ll change it after she wakes up tomorrow. But if I tell her now, she’ll have a whole night and day to think about it before she says anything.”
Eric found himself in strange waters. The boy had no reason he could fathom for doing this, and yet, he had. He felt the need to touch the boy and his hand lifted, but when Rick’s eyes lifted to his, so hopeful, he couldn’t quite bring himself to draw the boy toward him, so instead he said, “Thank you, Rick,” and then gestured for the boy to precede him into the room. What Eric didn’t see was the witch’s sharp eyes watching him.
Amy Ludwig was coming out of the room as Rick pushed his Aunt Fran’s wheelchair forward. “She’s perfect,” the doctor announced. “Normal turning. I don’t anticipate any bumps.” Doctor Ludwig looked to Eric, “I’m heading out,” she told him. The doctor turned to Rick and told him, “Remember what I told you. And you!” and Amy stuck her tongue out at Aunt Fran. “Remember to hold your temper!” and with a slight pop, Amy Ludwig was gone.
“She sure knows how to make an exit!” Fran shook her head.
“I guess,” Rick sighed and pushed his Aunt forward. Eric had taken care in arranging Sookie on the large bed that dominated the space. There were candles on most of the surfaces, their soft glow made the woman dressed in the long, white nightgown glow softly as well. Sookie’s hair was brushed carefully over each shoulder and it fell, curling, over the low-cut front of her gown.
“Jesus!” Fran exclaimed once Rick pushed her chair through the door, “This place looks like every bad bordello movie I’ve ever seen!” She turned to Rick and her words were strained, “Sweetie? Would you do me a favor, and run back in the other room to grab that shawl your Aunt Lora brought? I think I’m catching a chill.”
“Sure, Aunt,” Rick agreed, but everyone could see he was reluctant to go.
As soon as he left, Fran turned and hissed at Eric, “What are you thinking, displaying that boy’s Mother like this? Blow those god-damned candles out and turn on some real lights! And you!” she turned to Pam who had followed them into the room, “get a blanket and cover those things up!” and she gestured at her own chest, so Pam would know she meant Sookie’s breasts.
Eric drew himself up, but Pam started laughing. She flicked on a lamp and started to blow out the tapers. By the time Rick came back into the room, the lights were on, and Sookie was covered up to her shoulders with a blanket. “Thanks, Sweetie,” Aunt Fran’s voice was saccharine sweet as she took the shawl from Rick and used it to cover her knees. “I was feeling a little chilly. Now, let’s see if we can find you a chair, so you can sit down next to your Mom,” and Fran gave Pam another sharp look.
“I thought Thalia was scary!” Pam whispered to Rick as she headed back out into the hall.
“No one messes with Aunt Fran!” Rick agreed.
A chair was brought in and Rick was seated near his Mother’s head. He put the paper on the bed and smoothed out the wrinkles. “Hi, Mom,” he started. He smiled at her, but he found it was hard to keep talking. She did look different. She looked like she’d been dipped in some kind of shiny wax. He kept expecting her to breathe or move, but, of course, she didn’t. He glanced at Aunt Fran, then swallowing, he squared his shoulders and said, “You’re probably figuring out that you’ve become a vampire, and I’m pretty sure that you’re pissed off about it. Not the vampire part, but the part where no one asked. I know how much you hate people forcing you to do anything.” Rick looked up at Eric. The vampire had moved to the other side of the bed and he was staring at them. He looked pretty wound up, so Rick figured he better get on with it.
Rick reached over and took his Mom’s hand in his. He could hear Eric hiss and he saw Pam leaning forward in his peripheral, but he kept his eyes focused on his Mom. “Don’t be too pissed off, okay? I know it’s not how you wanted it, but being a vampire like me isn’t the worst thing. In fact, once you get over it, you’re probably going to think it’s pretty good. For one thing, we get to stay together. I mean, there’s going to be lots of things I’m going to want to share with you and now that I don’t have to worry about you dying too soon, I can take my time. So, you should know, I want to get married someday, but I want to make sure I get married to the right person. I’m kind of figuring just finding that person could take awhile, especially if I’m anything like you. Now? I don’t have to hurry. We have all the time in the world, and you can be there whenever I find the right one.”
Rick glanced at his paper, “We’ll have to talk to the school about changing graduation to night. I want you to be there and I think they would do it if we asked. I heard they did it once before when one of the kid’s parents couldn’t get there during the day, and that was for someone they didn’t even know. Everyone knows you and they like you. I know we can work it out. And Mom? I want to go back to Chester and finish school there. I know the teachers and all my friends. It’s where I think I should be.”
Rick looked up at Eric, “But, here’s the thing. I think you should stay here for awhile. I know that means I’ll board, but lots of kids do, and I’ll have George to keep me company. It’s just that there’s a lot to being a vampire. I’m growing into it day by day, but you got shoved in the deep end, and you take a lot longer to learn things than I do.” Rick laughed a little at his own joke, “You know I’m right!”
“You don’t think your Mother would be more comfortable with you?” Eric asked carefully.
“I think she needs to be around other vampires who can help her,” Rick said. “It’s not like we won’t see each other. There’s Parent’s weekends and vacations, but it will be easier for Chester to get up to speed with a kid vampire. Mom returning as a new vampire might be harder for our friends to understand. Besides…” and Rick glanced at Aunt Fran, “I think she’d be happier spending some time here,” and Rick looked back at Eric, “with you.”
“It has been many years since your Mother and I were together,” Eric smiled tightly. “She will make up her own mind about this.”
“Sure,” Rick nodded, “I know that, but still.” He glanced at his paper and started talking to his Mother again. “I want to spend Christmas together, all of us, in Boston with Aunt Fran, and I want you to come to Chester for my birthday, like always. I know we can’t watch the sun rise over the pond anymore, but we can sit together on the dock, and celebrate at midnight.”
“Or at two in the morning,” Fran told him.
“Why then?” Rick asked.
“Because, Rick, that’s when you were born,” and Fran smiled at her godson.
“The witching hour,” The way he said it had both Fran and Rick turning to stare at Eric.
“Like it was meant to be,” Fran nodded, and then she reached into the pouch hanging on the wheelchair arm that held her belongings and retrieved her phone. “Would you like to see a picture of Rick when he was a baby?”
Eric held back, but Pam said, “Of course! I bet he was ugly,” and pressing her hand to Eric’s back one last time, she walked around the bed to stand next to the witch. Pam glanced at the picture on the phone and exclaimed, “You were huge! You’re as big as Sookie!”
Rick turned, so he could see the photo. It was one he’d seen often. He was only a few days old, and he was lying on his Mother’s chest, his eyes open, his head looking almost the same size as his Mother’s due to the angle of the shot. “My friends in Chester still call me Chub. I was a monster!” Rick grinned.
“You need to see this,” Pam said to Eric, and the Viking reluctantly walked around the bed. He took the phone and stared at the photo.
“There’s another one,” Fran told him. The Viking brushed the photo to the side, revealing a slightly older Rick, his face bright, and his head covered with a red knit hat that looked like a tomato. Fran glanced at the photo, “Oh, I remember that!” she said. “I loved that hat! Your Aunt Lora found it.” The witch held up her hand for the phone, and when Eric returned it to her, she said, “I have one of him playing.”
“Playing?” Eric asked. “Sports?”
“Music,” Fran said to the screen, and then tapped and held the phone back for the vampire to take.
It was a video of one of the impromptu concerts on Chester Green. Rick was wearing his white shirt and beribboned vest. His bowler hat was tipped over his eye and he was playing fiddle. It had been a particularly good day and Peter walked into the video, playing mandolin, and the two of them dueled with each other, laughing. Eric looked at his son, “You have the gift of your people,” he told Rick.
“What? You mean vampires?” Rick asked.
Eric Northman laughed. It was a startling sound, pleasing and full, “No,” he told Rick, “the Fae. Niall Brigant would be pleased.”
“Who are the Fae?” Rick asked, and Eric told him. The hours passed. Rick told Eric about Chester and his adventures, and Eric told Rick stories of his youth, stories he hadn’t told anyone in close to a thousand years.
Finally, Fran yawned, “I’m sorry to break this up, but this old lady needs her sleep. Rick? Do you think you could get me back to the hotel?”
“Sure,” Rick nodded. He stood, and then leaned over to kiss his Mother’s cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mom,” he whispered. “Sleep well.”
Eric followed them from the room and when they got into the elevator, he headed to the stairs. Eric was downstairs to meet them when they exited the elevator. The Weres were there and they informed Rick they would be escorting the group the couple of blocks back to their hotel. As they were lifting Aunt Fran’s chair down the stairs, Rick turned to Eric, “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” he smiled and held out his hand.
Eric stared down and then at the boy. He stepped in and, before Rick realized what was happening, he was engulfed in Eric Northman’s arms. “Thank you,” Eric said. “Regardless of how things turn out tomorrow, know that I am grateful…” and the Viking leaned down and kissed Rick’s head, “my Son,” he whispered.
Rick looked up, “So,” he said, his throat tight, “Tomorrow, then? Father?”
Eric’s eyes shone and he touched Rick’s cheek. “Tomorrow,” he replied, and he stepped outside to watch the group leave. Rick couldn’t help seeing the handful of watchers who were taking pictures, and he wondered what it would be like to live his life in this kind of a fishbowl. He glanced back and his Father raised his hand, and when Rick turned around, he didn’t notice the spectators quite as much.
They were tense as they made their way from the hotel to the Palace. Rick had barely been able to sleep, knowing tonight was the night. From the dark rings under her eyes, Aunt Lora hadn’t slept either. Instead of going to a restaurant, Charles had arranged a private dinner for them together in the hotel courtyard. Instead of their usual banter and teasing, the dinner had been subdued. No one was sure what tonight would bring, and it weighed on each of them differently.
Amy Ludwig wasn’t with them anymore. She explained that with what she’d seen, there wasn’t likely to be any further need for her to monitor or treat. “Besides, I have taken too much time from my business as it is. You’re not the only Supes with needs, and I’m not a charity!” she’d snarled.
“Do you think we’ll all be in the room with her?” Rick asked Aunt Fran. “If Mom wakes up and she gets upset, it might be hard to get her to listen, but if you’re there? Everyone listens to you, Auntie.”
“I’d imagine that opening her eyes to all the people who love her would be a plus,” Lora reasoned. “If Sookie’s got any doubts, seeing our faces and knowing we accept her should put them to rest.”
“In the end, it doesn’t matter what we want,” Mr. Cataliades shook his head. “The Viking will probably dictate the terms. He’ll say who’s in the room and who isn’t.”
“Maybe he should,” Rick snapped, “and if my Father feels that strongly about it, maybe I’m okay with that.” The feel of his Father’s arms around him still seemed very fresh. “One thing I do know,” Rick said more carefully, “Eric really cares about her.” Rick swallowed, squared his shoulders, and said out loud, “My Father loves my Mom, and I know he just wants to do what’s right by her.”
Fran laughed and reached behind her to pat Rick’s hand where it rested on the push bar of her chair, “You’re right about that. It was written all over him yesterday. Pam had to restrain him when anyone got too close, but he fought all his instincts, because he knew your Mom would want you to be close to her. I believe your Mother is one lucky woman and she’ll be a happy one, too, if she doesn’t panic and let her fear get the best of her. And that’s where you’ll help her, Rick.” Fran looked over her shoulder, “You talk with her and hug her. Remind her of what’s she living for, and that’s you, young man!”
As they approached the doors of the Palace, the sun was just dipping below the horizon, but Thalia was already in the hallway, waiting for them. “The King has risen,” she told them. “Follow me.”
“Is Mom awake, too?” Rick eyed the elevator, wondering if it would be faster to take the stairs.
“No,” Thalia smiled. “Your Mother is newly-made. It may be another hour before she rises, maybe more. The sun must be fully below the earth’s rim before she can rise.”
“Oh,” Rick exhaled. “Okay, then, we have time,” and he helped maneuver Fran’s wheelchair into the elevator car for the ride up to the sixth floor.
“Nervous?” Lora asked him.
“Yeah, I am,” he told her. “I miss her. All I want is to hear her saying my name.”
“And you will,” Fran assured him. “You’ll see.”
Thalia was already in the corridor when the elevator doors opened and Rick figured she must have run the stairs. “Where’s Pam?” Rick asked as they moved into the hallway.
“She’s still in her rooms,” Thalia told him. “As a vampire ages, they need less rest. Your Father and I rise even before the sun sets, although we need to remain in darkness. Pam is still relatively young. She will join us shortly.” Thalia eyed Lora and Mr. Cataliades. “Of course, neither Pam nor myself will be entering the chamber for Sookie’s rising. We will wait for her to join us, as is right.” Thalia crossed her arms then, and didn’t move.
“I suppose that means you want us to wait, too.” Mr. Cataliades didn’t sound pleased.
“Just until she rises,” Thalia replied. “He is…the King is understandably attentive. Once she is among us, his instincts will be less…heightened.”
“Eric Northman isn’t her Maker,” Mr. Cataliades said it in his rather formal way, “so one could argue he has no more right to be at her side than you or me.”
Hearing how pushy Uncle Desmond was being made Rick mad. “You know my Father is having a hard time with this!” Rick snapped. “It’s just another hour! Please? Aunt Lora, you don’t mind waiting, do you?” and then he looked at Aunt Lora, using his best, begging eyes.
“None of us mind,” Fran said. “I’m going to wait, too. I really think it should be just the two of you, you and your Father with Sookie at first.”
“But, Aunt Fran…” Rick swallowed. He realized he’d been relying on the idea of his sharp-tongued Godmother keeping his Mom in line if things turned to shit.
“Rick, I think this is the right thing for all of you,” his Aunt assured him. “There may be things you need to talk about, as a family, and it’s better that you have some privacy for that.”
Rick looked around the room and he thought about it some more. He could see how it just being the three of them, his Mom, his Dad, and himself could be important, and so he nodded. “Okay. We’ll call you as soon as she’s ready,” and he looked at the door.
For a brief second, he wondered if he was going to be kept waiting, too. His Father hadn’t appeared and no one said anything, but as quickly as he thought it, Thalia touched his arm. “This way,” she said.
While the others finished walked to the reception room, Rick and Thalia took a left, walking back toward the suite where Rick knew his Mother was resting. When he entered the room, the lights were on, but somehow the quality of the light was softer. Eric was standing at the end of the bed and he turned when Rick walked in. “She is starting to feel her rising,” he told Rick. “When you rise, it feels like sand rushing past you, or water running just under you. Soon, that feeling will gather and she will feel buoyed forward by it.”
“I don’t feel anything like that,” Rick shrugged, moving to stand next to Eric. “When I wake up, I just wake up.”
“It is that rush, the tension before rising, that reminds a vampire of the sweetness of this life,” Eric told Rick. “I am sorry you don’t get to experience that, but you do get the freedom of choosing the time of your rising. It’s seems a fair trade.”
Rick was watching his Mother’s face, looking for some sign. “When I want to feel that kind of thing, like how I’m part of something bigger, I play music,” Rick told his Father. “It reminds me I’m just one piece of everything and that if I try, I can be more than just myself.” He stared again at his Mother’s still face. “Sometimes, when the music is just right, it’s like I disappear, and I’m not me. I’m everything.”
Eric nodded, then glanced at the chair that still rested beside the bed. “Would you like to sit and hold her hand? It might draw her, the feeling of you being so close.”
“Sure,” Rick said, and then he asked, “What about you? I bet she’d be happy if you were near her, too. You could sit on the bed, maybe.”
Eric didn’t move closer. “I will be here,” he told Rick. “It is your face she should see first, and your voice she should hear.”
Rick settled in the chair and took his Mother’s hand in his, but it was Eric’s face that he was watching. The Viking returned his son’s stare, then said, “There’s something you should know before your Mother rises. The manner of her turning was not kind. The vampire, Bill Compton, he wanted her to be without blemish. It’s an old custom among vampires. A Maker will remove scars or other imperfections from their progeny before they turn them. They use their own blood to heal the wounds. It strengthens the bond between Maker and child; it sends a message that as a vampire, you start your life anew.” Eric stared at Rick, “You know your Mother can’t be glamoured…” and then the vampire’s gaze returned to rest on Sookie’s face. “There was no way for him to ease her pain.”
Rick swallowed as he considered what his Father was telling him. “Mrs. Hermosa told me my Mom was tortured when she lived here before and that you rescued her.”
“I fought for her,” Eric’s words were simple, but Rick thought his Father was telling him something more.
Rick looked at his Mom, “Even when it was really hot in the summer? Mom wouldn’t ever wear shorts, and she never wore a swim suit. I mean I saw them, the scars, but she wouldn’t tell me how she got them.”
“When I first met your Mother, she loved to wear bikinis,” Eric smiled. “She would lie in the sun all day. It made her skin smell…” and then the vampire’s eyes flicked to his Son’s. “The scars were the work of the Fae. What Compton did to her was similar but, now, there are no scars. He removed them all.”
Rick was quiet for a minute before asking, “Did that happen to you, too? When you were turned?”
Eric looked at Rick, “Yes, it did.”
“But you could be glamoured,” Rick bit his lip.
“But I wasn’t,” Eric laughed mirthlessly. “My Maker wished me to understand the great gift he was giving me, so he refused to dull any of the pain. He wished me to understand that I was his to do with as he wished.”
“So, how did you get over it?” Rick asked.
“I am very old,” Eric answered. “The pain you experience before you become vampire dulls in your memory. You don’t remember it in the same way. And now? I am so old, and I have fought so many battles. Even when I am injured, somehow the pain I feel seems less, because I know I will heal again and the pain will be nothing but a memory.”
“My Mom may need help,” Rick said. “I know she seems tough, but she’s really a marshmallow on the inside. What happened to her before still haunts her. To have it happen again? I don’t know how she’ll be with that.”
“She will have whatever she needs,” and then Eric stepped forward to stand next to Rick. “She comes!” he hissed. His eyes glowed and he leaned forward a little. “Stay close,” he whispered to Rick, and placed his hand on Rick’s shoulder. “Let her see you. Let her smell you.”
Rick did lean forward. He took his Mom’s hand and brought his face close to hers, “Mom?” he asked.
“Rick?” his Mom answered, and her eyes opened and she saw him. It was the most wonderful feeling Rick could ever remember.
“Mama!” Rick cried, using the name he’d called her when he was a small child. He laid himself against her, laying his cheek alongside hers. He couldn’t see the panic in her eyes as she started. He didn’t see the way her eyes raced around the room until she found Eric. The Viking was watching her and somehow, seeing him made it all real for her. She wasn’t lost or drifting. This wasn’t a terrible nightmare that wouldn’t end. This was what it was and Sookie’s arms lifted to hug her son to her, because as terrible as things were, they were also wonderful, and Sookie knew that somehow this was only the beginning.
When her son lifted his head, Sookie said, “So, how did you get here?”
“Well,” he said and then he slid his eyes to the side, which told her right away he’d done something he knew she wouldn’t like.
“Maybe you should tell me later,” she said, and was rewarded with her son’s quick smile. She raised her eyes to Eric, “And you found each other,” she said.
Eric hadn’t moved, hadn’t taken one step to touch her. Sookie wondered what it meant, and she said the last thing she remembered hearing of him, “Rubio told me you might be King here now.”
“I was successful,” Eric nodded.
“Oh,” and Sookie glanced briefly at Rick, wondering what to say next, but Gran’s manners kicked in and she said, “Congratulations to both you and Freyda. I’m sure this is something…”
“Freyda is finally dead,” Eric didn’t elaborate. He simply said it.
“Oh,” Sookie said again. Rick was grinning at her and she stroked his cheek, marveling at how hot his skin felt. “So, you found each other,” she said again, and then, “Eric, I’m sorry, I should have…”
“There is nothing to be sorry about. I explained everything while you slept. Think back. Do you remember my words?” Eric sat on the edge of the bed now.
“I thought it was a dream,” Sookie whispered. “I could hear your voice,” and she turned to Rick, “Yours, too. You were telling me things.”
“Do you remember what I said?” Rick asked.
“Yes,” Sookie said after a minute, “Yes, I remember it all.” Rick watched his Mother’s expression, and she looked away, biting her lip.
“Everyone is here to see you,” Rick said, calling her back. “Aunt Fran and Aunt Lora and Uncle Desmond. They’re all waiting to talk with you,” and when his Mother’s eyes became wide, he added, “when you’re ready.”
“Fran is here?” Sookie asked, her voice trembling. Rick nodded. It was then that Sookie looked at Eric, and the Viking reached out his hand. She placed her free hand in his and Rick saw his Mother looked stronger. “I think I need to get dressed first,” Sookie told Rick. “Can you tell them I’ll be out as soon as I clean up a little?”
“Sure, Mom!” Rick beamed, “You bet!” He leaned over and kissed her, and then leaned forward and placed his forehead against hers in a gesture that was theirs and whispered, “I love you, Mom!” He jumped up from the bed, almost knocking over the chair.
Rick made it to the door and turned. He saw Eric start to draw away from his Mother, but his Mother tightened her grip on Eric’s hand, keeping him in place. She looked up and her smile warmed Rick. She didn’t seem to realize that Eric was smiling at her with the same intensity.
Rick went back to the reception room to tell Aunt Fran and the others the good news, that his Mom was awake and happy and she’d be coming out to see all of them in just a little while. He told them everything she said and how she looked. Pam was in the room and she told them the story of how Sookie and she had ambushed Felipe de Castro’s lieutenants on the road. “Your Mother is one strong lady,” Pam laughed. “Doesn’t surprise me at all that she’d handle this like another day.”
“It runs in the family,” Lora said and she told the story about Rick and how he broke his arm riding toboggans off snowy roofs.
It was over an hour before Sookie Stackhouse walked into the reception room, her arm draped around Eric’s waist. She was smiling, and Rick couldn’t remember the last time she’d looked so happy, but after a bit, Rick could tell his Mom wasn’t fully herself yet. It was in how she’d stop talking and suddenly look away, tentative and unsure. Sookie did made a special effort to ask Aunt Fran to come back tomorrow night to talk. Rick figured it was important when she asked Aunt Fran twice.
Finally, Sookie settled on the couch with Rick beside her. She was acting less nervous, in fact, she was almost acting like her old self when she turned to him and said, “Okay, it’s time to spill. I could tell there’s some story about how you came to New Orleans, and I think you’d better tell me.”
“There sure is!” Fran laughed, and she insisted Rick tell his Mother the full story of his ‘escape’ to New Orleans. Aunt Fran called it, ‘Rick and George’s Excellent Adventure.’ As Rick was finishing, he could feel the moment his Mom stopped laughing and started getting nervous, and then stressed. He stopped talking, looked at her, and said, “Maybe we should take a short break, Mom.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“You’re hungry,” he shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I am, too.” Rick saw his Mom’s eyes grow large, and Eric, who had been standing behind them, stepped forward, looking alarmed as well. “Do you remember back in Boston when you made me drink my first blood, Rick asked, “and what you told me?”
“Kind of,” Sookie was starting to look panicked.
“Well, good,” Rick said, “because this is something I can do for you now. I know it sounds weird, but it’s not. Not really.” Rick glanced up at Eric. “I can show you how it’s done and believe me, it’s way better than trying to figure out something with a turkey baster.”
Sookie was looking like she was going to protest when Fran cut her off, “I think that’s a wonderful idea, Rick. I’m so proud of how you’ve stepped into your heritage, and I know your Mom is proud of you, too, aren’t you, Sookie?” and Fran sat back, looking every bit the spider luring the fly into her web. “I know you’d be happy to have your son show you how to feed yourself. After all, it’s something you encouraged him to learn, right? Now the student will become the teacher!”
“I don’t know…” Sookie stammered.
“Where’s that backbone we all admire?” Fran scoffed. “Any person looking at you now would take you for some weak woman, and we all know that’s not the case! So, in the immortal words of Doctor Ludwig, it’s time to ‘Suck it up, Buttercup’!”
“Nice one, Aunt Fran!” Rick chuckled, and then held out his hand for his Mother. “You should probably come, too,” he told Eric.
Pam was texting, “I’ll have things set up in the private room we used yesterday,” she told Rick.
Sookie stood and Eric took her other hand, and then raised it to his lips, “You are wonderful,” he told her and there was something flying between the two of them that wasn’t just friendship.
“Yeah, yeah, enough of that!” Rick blushed, and he told the others, “Don’t leave yet. We’ll be back.”
When they reached the room where the donors were waiting, Rick explained the process to his Mother the same way Eric had explained it to him, but when it came time to congratulate her, it was Eric who placed his hand on Sookie’s back. Rick fed as well, and he showed his Mom how he could heal any sign of his feeding. “You do that very well,” his Mother said, her voice weak. Rick could tell she was still freaked out about it, but she was doing her best to hide it. “How did you learn?” she asked.
“My Father taught me,” Rick told her, and he could see that he’d said the right thing.
When it was time to leave, Sookie asked Rick if he would stay overnight at the Palace.
“I don’t want you to feel bad about this,” he told her, “but if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to head back to the Hotel with Aunt Fran tonight. It’ll be dawn in a couple hours, and I’m really tired. I know I’ll be up tomorrow morning whether I want to be or not, and I promised Aunt Lora and Aunt Fran I’d go to Café du Monde with them, but I’ll be here tomorrow night when you wake up. I promise.”
Sookie walked them downstairs and she and Eric stood in the doorway. She almost looked normal. She was wearing jeans and a soft t-shirt. She had sneakers on her feet and her hair was pulled back. When Rick hugged her, it felt like every time before, and Rick found his heart was starting to unwind.
As they got to the corner, just before they turned down the street that led to their hotel, Rick turned around. His Mom and Eric were still standing there, at the doors of the Palace, their arms around each other. ‘My family,’ he thought, and he felt how right it was.